Monday, September 20, 2010

9/3: Today is day one of two days devoted to planning Camp GLOW (Girls Leading Our World). Clearly, it will take more than two days to plan a week long sleep-away camp but it’s a start. Angie and Leah are sleeping over at my place so we can get as much work done as possible. I think I discussed the idea of Camp GLOW earlier but it’s one of Peace Corps’s initiatives for gender and development. The plan is to take 20 female leaders in grades 8-10 from each of our communities and empower them to look past their challenges and embrace another option. The option being presented to them is success, education, family planning and confidence. Self reliance, independence, joy. If you take away every educational opportunity planned during the week you will have what I hope will be an amazing camp experience. I look back on my camp experiences as some of my fondest childhood memories. I would love to bring these young women that feeling of joy and camaraderie too. I think we can do that and much, much more. I want to teach them about their rights to their bodies and their rights to fight back. There’s a whole world out there and lots of scholarships waiting to help you experience it. I was ready with plenty of ideas for potential workshops but we ended up discussing how much (or little) people were willing to put into this project. The tense planning meeting resulted in me doubting how the different personalities and visions of my two best friends and I could ever be meshed into a functional camp. I then realized that not only was it not about me but that any help is important in a project this large. Unfortunately, we never quite got around to the actual camp. We have another sleep over planning session slated for next Friday so I’m hoping that one will be more productive.

9/4: So earlier this week my go go requested her electric cord back. She strung a cord outside from her house to mine which has one plug attached to the end for my electricity. She suggested that I take this down, buy myself another cord, and have a young boy install it. “Very cheap, Lindelwa.” I told her what might be easier is if she tells me how many meters of cord she needs and I go buy her that amount instead of uninstalling and reinstalling my existing electricity. This seemed to satisfy her. A few days later she said she needed my bed. I asked her what I would sleep on and she said it’s not her problem. After going back and forth for quite some time I was able to deduce that the girlfriend of one of her sons that passed away has also just passed. She left a child who will be coming to stay with us so she needs the bed. This would be more than reasonable if there wasn’t already a bed that was unused in my go go’s house. If this wasn’t shocking enough, the following day she said that she needs rent from me as well. In an indirect culture I’ve been trying to see what I did to upset her. This could be her way of telling me she’s angry at me for something completely unrelated to our housing agreement. Ironically, our relationship has been great, which made this whole debacle even more hurtful. Zindle is over at my house every day and does all but sleep here. My go go and I drink tea at my house every day and spend a good amount of time chatting on a daily basis. Is she now just my landlord? I thought I was part of the family. I can buy a new cord, bed and monthly rent but when I asked her why she was doing this she said, “You aren’t a part of the family, I don’t love you.” To make matters worse, last night there was a drunk man at my door who wouldn’t go away. I locked my flimsy door but my burglar gate wasn’t locked because Angie had just come back in. He was shaking the door handle and yelling. I finally called my go go’s cell phone and she said she knows what’s happening. Her window’s open, she’s been watching this whole time. I tried to articulate as clearly as possible that this incident is upsetting and I would like her to help get this man to leave. Not only did she not help me but she was yelling at me for forgetting to lock my burglar bars. She finally did help me but I felt so hurt that I almost had to beg her to do so. She could hear my tone of voice and those of my friends; she knew we were rattled by this. And she stood by and watched it happen? This whole week has made me feel so betrayed by the woman I devoted so much of my time to and who always treated me as one of her own. Later on she made sure I knew how hurt Zindle and her friends were that she couldn’t spend all day yesterday and today with my friends and I. I tried to explain that four five year olds does not make for a conducive work environment. Well, apparently I wasn’t convincing enough because Zindle and her friends banged on my door on 20 minute intervals all day. When my friends left, I was so exhausted by the blatant disregard of my boundaries that the next time the girls banged on my door I spouted off as many angry phrases as I could muster and locked the door. Zindle sat on my front stoop and cried for an hour. After stumbling back into my house in a haze of guilt and sheer weariness I attempted to compile all my Christian music into one playlist which somehow resulted in half of it being deleted in the process. This brings us to my breaking point where I cried until I had no more tears left to shed.

9/5: Today all I wanted to do was hole up in my hut and wallow in my own misery while dreaming of quesadillas and milkshakes but alas I had a coming of age ceremony for a sangoma (witch doctor) to attend so I had to cut my pity party short. This ceremony was in the next village over so I needed to take a short bush taxi ride to get there. I was given the directions from Tshengie to get on the taxi and ask to be taken to the Majola family compound. There find someone to take you to the Mcineka compound. So I was going in pretty blind here. I waited so long for a taxi to arrive that I thought perhaps they’d joined the strike as they’d been threatening to do since its inception so I hitchhiked with people that said they knew where this family lived. Well they didn’t. I sat in the back of a pickup truck for an hour on top of a crate of beer bottles. Though the truck bed was caked in dirt I would have much preferred the floor if it wouldn’t have been so socially unacceptable. After being dropped off in the middle of a market (definitely not the Majola compound) I asked the crowd of people in the taxi heading back to my village if they knew this family’s location before getting in. I felt more confident that I was going to get there this time. Sure enough I was dropped off in the right location. Unfortunately, there wasn’t anyone just roaming around ready to take me from this compound to the Mcinekas’. I then stood on the side of the dirt road in a mixture of confusion and panic for what felt like hours before I saw a few women in the distance who I proceeded to run to with flailing arms as if I was being rescued from a deserted island. After I caught my breath I was able to ask for directions and was assured I could follow them because they were going to the same party. Relieved that I wasn’t going to die alone, my starved body being ravaged by wild dogs, I followed them to what turned out to be quite the experience. As I walked into the compound which was composed of seven or eight mud homes with thatched roofs, several horses, chickens, goats and cows and more people than I could count, I was bombarded with a herd of children. I immediately had three holding each hand and half a dozen stragglers dragging behind me while holding a piece of my skirt. My guides didn’t want anything to do with this bizarre celebrity and quickly made themselves scarce. I was trying to find the one woman I knew amongst the masses and stumbled upon a woman who proceeded to pry my entourage off of me in time to once again, “make me pretty.” As I’ve now come to expect, she poured boiling water over my head then dumped half a bottle of shampoo over it then came an equally scalding rinse session. After that, moisturizer was rubbed through my hair, followed by lots and lots of baby oil. Next came the blow dryer where she combed out my waves to create a ring of frizz. The final touch was a bright pink infant sized elastic headband with a large bow in the front. My audience of bathing women and snotty nosed children loved it. The next step in the beautification process was clothing. This mystery friend of mine dressed me in a child sized shirt that did not quite cover my stomach…at all. She then scurried into yet another room to find a pair of heels that she had never worn. I couldn’t tell if they were too small or if I was just too used to shoes with items such as support, cushion and breathable material. I was then paraded amid the hordes of people to oohs and aahs. I even was able to go into the hut designated for the three patriarchs of the extended family, all of whom are sangomas themselves. I entered with my new friend after taking off my shoes and bending at a 90 degree angle. We were then asked to sit where we faced perpendicular to them in an effort to never make eye contact. I peered my head as far as I dared to try to get a sense of the place. There were shelves filled with traditional medicine and all sorts of herbs and animal hides hanging from the ceiling. As we left I started to think that the woman I’m suppose to meet here either does not actually live here, is sick, or perhaps sacrificed herself to the pack of wild dogs I was envisioning succumbing to earlier.

Next on the docket was the main event. All the sangomas that had been milling about earlier had gathered in a clearing on the compound. We were up high enough that there was nothing but hills and deep ravines in any direction. In essence it felt like we were at the edge of the world.

Each sangoma, both male and female, wore a waist-length beaded headdress, black beaded skirt, white shirt and tin disks around their ankles so they jingled when they danced. They waved horses’ tails as they danced to the drums covered in raw hide while one man sang songs from so deep in his soul I felt I was intruding. The mood turned celebratory as the young woman stepped into the circle. Every young woman has a coming of age ceremony, whether she’s a witch doctor or not. This is a time when a girl becomes a woman and she’s now ready to be married. This isn’t signified by menstruation but rather by the maturity of the individual. The ages of the women in this ceremony are usually 15-19.

Everyone who could safety pinned money onto her headdress while her fellow sangomas danced and sung in a semi-circle around her. This ended when everyone was exhausted, hungry and out of money. Unlike everyone else, I had already been force fed two meals of rice and boiled chicken swimming in oil so I was not looking forward to a third heaping portion. I somehow choked it down with the help of some water of questionable quality and the herd of children that hadn’t left my side since I came. I finally stumbled upon my host who insisted that I sleep there overnight. I didn’t think it was too bad of an idea and when I called my go go to confirm my decision she said she didn’t care what I did and repeated that she doesn’t love me. I suddenly was reminded of our strained relationship and I felt the immediate need to get home and try to make amends. This about face was met with confusion and frustration. I allotted multiple hours for goodbyes, the majority of which I spent convincing my entourage that I made the right decision. At the end of the day, the woman, Bongisile, who befriended me and didn’t leave my side, even while bathing, insisted I keep all the articles of clothing that she let me borrow. This included the infant head band, child sized t-shirt with classy midriff and heels that she’d never worn. I pleaded with her to keep the shoes. I only stopped begging when I realized how hurt she was at my refusal of her gift. I thought this revelation was a bit too late but she quickly recovered once I grudgingly accepted. I left with such a full heart I had all but forgotten the frustrations of the previous week.

9/6: My Peace Corps supervisor gave me pretty sound advice, in my opinion, concerning my housing situation. He suggested that I take myself out of the equation entirely and request that my go go talk to Tshengie directly. This will enable our relationship to remain intact while she hammers out her need for furniture and money. Tshengie visited her today after work. They talked for about an hour, at one point laughing at other points fighting. When I asked for a translation she said she was too tired to talk about it but everything’s fine. When I asked her the following day she elaborated by saying, “don’t worry, everything’s fine.” Gotcha.

9/7: Today it was all hands on deck when we were notified that one of our funders, the Department of Social Development, is requesting proof to back up our statistics. Not only do we make up numbers but the forms are all in English so none of the caregivers have the slightest idea what they’re making up numbers for. Let’s just say reporting is an opportunity for growth for us. I don’t doubt they’re doing the work, well most of them, but their literacy level in their home language, let alone a second language, prevents them from accurately reporting. I proposed the idea of typing the lists that are requested of us so that each month we could just add our new clients and delete the ones who’ve passed away instead of the mad scramble that happens when everyone remembers that, in fact, the end of the month is here again. This was deemed a ridiculous suggestion and everyone went back to organizing their million scrap sheets of paper onto one sheet of paper that after turned in will have to be re-created from scratch the next month…and the next month.

9/8: So as much as I want to be fluent in Zulu, the last thing I want to do after an exhausting day of stumbling through this new language, is to study more Zulu. So I’ve hit a plateau. But today I pushed through and studied all day, much to the entertainment of my co-workers.

9/9: So we’ve been in our new building for a week or so and the concept of indoor plumbing has still eluded my co-workers. I gave a lesson in flush toilets that involved instructing the men to lift the seat up when standing, counting to three as they hold down the lever to flush and how to clean such a foreign object. This was received with only mild interest. I was not expecting a conga line in gratitude for this new knowledge but I was hoping that perhaps some of my suggestions on how to use a flush toilet would be put into practice. The short answer to that is, though the men have thankfully since decided to lift the seat up, other ideas of mine have been disregarded. The idea, for example, to wash their dishes in our new sink has led them to wash the dishes in buckets…in the sink. I was hoping by giving them some tips the two older women who cook hot meals for the orphans and vulnerable children would have a much easier time doing so. But in reality, indoor plumbing has turned out to be scary, intimidating, confusing and not all that it’s cracked up to be. Is bigger, faster and easier always better?

9/10-11: Today started sleepover number two of Camp GLOW planning. Unfortunately, I can’t say this meeting was much more productive. On a positive note, the PCV host cooked a chili that was composed almost solely of American ingredients, which warmed my soul on such a blustery day.

9/12: I locked myself in my room and read almost an entire book in one day; it was amazing!

9/13: I’m heartened by all the progress at the Camp GLOW meeting today. We have a skeleton of the grant done, which was possible by enlisting an agenda with Western-style time limits on each topic. What can I say; it worked. I was designated Project Manager which was particularly special coming from my closest friends. I was also able to release my white knuckle grip on the planning when someone else requested the section of the grant where the majority of the creative liberty could be taken.

9/14: So the trainer for the caregivers’ training did not show up for train the trainer day for our first in a series of workshops slated for completion at the end of the year. Busi, my back up trainer was MIA as well, as were the materials she promised she’d translate. Instead, I decided to peel vegetables and gossip.

9/15: Training went so well today. The caregivers learned about what it means to be a home based carer. Though they could say things like, a caregiver provides palliative care, when pressed for examples or a definition of palliative care nobody knew. Mpostol is also a very charismatic trainer and made sure everyone participated. Though only two out of the thirteen pages of curriculum were accomplished, and about half of the caregivers showed up I was still really excited to see them starting to grasp their role in the fight of HIV/AIDS.

9/16: Today we had a meeting with the church we share our new building with. Members of Zamimpilo feel it’s unnecessary for members of the church to have keys to our doors and offices. (The building has no shared space and was designed to function as two separate entities). They’re concerned that we have parts of computers that if put together properly one could eventually get it to operate (assuming that the thousands of viruses riddling the hard drives were somehow eradicated) and therefore could be at risk of getting stolen. Right now they’re behaving as important looking dust collectors but the consensus is that broken, green screened computers would catch the potential funder’s eye.
The meeting was scheduled for 9:00 so I didn’t peer into our new ‘board room’ which is just an empty room that we drag plastic chairs into when our ‘dining hall’ for the orphans isn’t being used until after 10:00. (The dining hall is also empty save for a few plastic chairs). People started petering in soon after that and we quickly had everyone settled in one room. Naturally, the agreements signed between the two parties last year needed to be copied before the meeting could begin and this was not something that necessarily could/should be done beforehand. So each of the three agreements were taken one by one to get a few copies. It was promptly agreed upon that everyone needed a copy of each document. This back and forth charade took another hour. Next up was the declaration of the need to find an attendance register. A search party was assembled and came back triumphant about 20 minutes later. We then passed around some hymnals, sang a few Psalms and prayed many a prayer. Another attendance register was mandated. It is now three hours past our original start time. Now that everyone was good and tired from all that productivity tea was passed around to all. I had to go to what would invariably be an equally productive meeting at the Department of Agriculture. This was upsetting to everyone as my whiteness gave the meeting more validity. They were just getting started they exclaimed! Well it’s now well into the afternoon and I assured them that I didn’t doubt they would come away from this battle of the minds with an action plan filled with concessions and compromises, sacrifices and small gains. I could tell that the momentum for the meeting had waned as the realization surfaced that it would no longer be possible to shamelessly stare at the malungu for hours on end. I could hear them picking up their things and planning their next meeting as I walked out the door. Onward and upward to the Department of Agriculture. There are a series of entrances to the D of A, all of which lead directly into someone’s personal office. I walked into someone on the phone then when I tried door number 2, I found three people in a meeting. The only person that seemed flustered at this seeming intrusion of privacy was me. One of them walked me to the office I was looking for where I interrupted another meeting with my more important White agenda. I explained that I heard the D of A was giving away free seeds and tools as a part of their One Home One Garden program and that I would like some. I went on to say that I’m going to a training with a co-worker where we’ll learn different gardening techniques and then train the community members. I didn’t get a chance to delve into my color-coded evaluation chart or my assessment tools. He said that though it’s true that the D of A has a large storage room stacked with more crates than he could count with both tools and seeds, my village wasn’t one of the four neediest in the catchment area so he couldn’t give me any supplies. I wouldn’t want to take tools and seeds from the people most in need…would I, he asked me. Well, in fact, if the crates have been sitting there for months, I argued, I wouldn’t be taking anything from anybody. I asked him how long they had been there and if there was a chance we could take a few things if the tools and seeds are going unclaimed? Not possible. Of course not.

I then took a deep breath as I entered the always traumatic Post Office. I had three packages stuffed to the brim with American shoes and toys awaiting my retrieval thanks to my church back home. The postal lady snickered when she asked if I had a car to haul these parcels, knowing full well I didn’t, taking great joy as I carried them one by one on my head to the taxi rank. (It is legitimately easier to carry almost anything on your head). After asking one of the fruit ladies in the market to watch my package; I went to fetch the next one…and back again. Next came arguably the most entertaining part, which would be getting all three boxes on a bush taxi where your knees are already jutting into the seat in front of you. Lucky for me I was sandwiched in between two morbidly obese women. These women composed three Alenas each. So there were seven Alenas and three gigantic boxes on a seat made for maybe two and a half Alenas, no boxes. The door could not be opened from the inside; the driver had to get out to open it. I somehow survived the ride and plopped the boxes onto the side of the road. I didn’t expect my arms to feel like Jell-O but I had been bracing them against near disaster for over an hour now. I then got Mpostol who was not only irritated at getting torn away from his favorite Chuck Norris film but was shocked I was requesting some assistance in the heavy lifting department. I then pleaded, against all cultural norms, for some empathy. He finally agreed and took the lightest one. Happy to be down a third of the work, I made my second trek back to the side of the road with a bounce in my step. I waited to peer into the contents for several more days.

9/17: Today we celebrated the opening of our new building. Before the event started I was concerned I didn’t quite decipher the chicken scratch agenda properly, was there really no singing planned, I asked, quite alarmed. I was quickly assured there would be plenty of singing. In fact, there was about two hours waiting for everyone to arrive fashionably late, six hours of singing and about ten minutes of speeches. I was pleasantly surprised that I knew at least some of the words to all of the songs and correlating hand movements. I not only sang, but sang as loud as my voice would allow inserting as many Hallelujahs as the best of them while joining the conga line soaked in sweat. (We crammed way too many people into our ‘dining hall’ for said party). Leah came because our organizations are partners (in theory) and it was really great to show everyone off. She then pulled me aside and said, “I know how frustrated you get with the bureaucracy and the corruption and the varying work ethic. But the people here love you. You’ve touched people and they adore you.” After she finished her lengthy Kodak moment and I was near tears, I told her that I adore them far more.

9/18: Leah slept over and we watched rom coms all day with as many American delicacies as I could muster. When Zindle joined the party we played Pixar’s Up and she cried during the scene where the couple grows old together, how cute is that?!

9/19: I had several visitors today who needed help with homework or were just looking to chat though I was exhausted after I tried to keep up with a teen for an hour in a half in Zulu after I played some card game with no apparent rules with seven neighbor kids. Next a girl came over looking for help with her assignment. She’s 20 and in 11th grade, which is not only not unique but typical. She gave me her rubric, written in English, which she clearly didn’t understand. She then handed me a job description cut out from a newspaper which was part of the assignment and which she couldn’t read to do homework that was completely over her head. Good thing they extended summer vacation for World Cup and the teachers went on strike for another month, are slated to strike again, with another two weeks of vacation fast approaching.

9/20: Is it gross that despite the fact that I have two separate ant hills inside my hut with the packaging of my food covered in ants I still walk around unfazed with bare feet?

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

8/23: Today, my supervisor and I and a few other representatives from our organization asked the Inkosi (head chief) for approval of our upcoming building. I don't think Tshengie was anticipating any hesitation because this request for permission came after the plans have been submitted and discussions were had with various contractors. He did, in fact, say no. Well, not no exactly, but he thought our new building would be more accessible to the community in a different location. Again, our meeting was a bit late for suggestions. In a hierarchical culture such as this one, not only should we have moved our building plan but do it without question. This posed a difficult situation because of the sheer implausibility of that happening at this point. So for right now, Tshengie's plan is to pretend he didn't make such a suggestion. A plug-your-ears-while-lalala-ing sort of philosophy if you will. We'll see how that works out. In the meantime, more fires need to be fought on the home front. Our chairperson has been escalating her level of corruption as of late. A take-a-little-off-the-top mentality is not only accepted here but expected. Sindi, on the other hand, started in that respect and things escalated from there. This last week, she took so much meat from the daily feeding scheme for our orphans that we ran out of meat to feed them. We also only had enough fruit for one week out of the month to give them. As soon as everyone realized how this was affecting the children, it was no longer acceptable. After one meeting it was unanimously decided that she needed to step down. The treasurer came crying to Tshengie last week begging to step down as well because of how much pressure she was under to collude with the theft and corruption. Not only has she been stealing from our project since she began her tenure, she also has burned so many bridges with potential funders and partner organizations. With that said, I was absolutely floored that she was asked to step down. (Granted, she will still be a home based care volunteer, she will no longer be the one making decisions and fortunately also no longer the face of our organization). Monitoring and evaluation of staff is something that is not as valued in this culture. The members of this project have all grown up together and enjoy being around each other. It’s not about rewards and punishment. Though because of that, not only have ineffective and toxic employees been able to continue their work, outstanding ones have gone unnoticed. I created several monitoring and evaluation tools that will help gauge that…assuming their interested in knowing the results.

8/24: Operation Jumpstart, which is funding our new building, came today which was a bit stressful, but exciting. They were two and a half hours late, which undoubtedly was to make sure we were aware of how busy and important they are, point taken. Hopefully they will break ground in just a few weeks time and it’s slated for completion in December. I also had an impromptu emergency summit with my Peace Corps besties to discuss back up Christmas plans since it looks like my family isn't going to make it. After some wallowing and more than my fair share of grease was ingested, we came up with the magnificent Christmas plan b that involves us three plus a visiting boyfriend to hike the Drakensburg Mountains. I was panicking because I didn’t know anyone who didn’t already have plans for the holidays but in a wonderful twist of fate both of these lovely ladies are now available for a Christmas extravaganza. Crisis averted. To boost my spirits even higher I received two care packages with a total of no less than twelve magazines, it will take every ounce of self control I have in me to go to work this week haha. Fun fact: I’m currently wearing an American flagged dr. Suess-esque hat, best care package gift ever : )

8/25: I cannot find the little scrap of paper I wrote today’s events on, sorry.

8/26: If you haven’t heard, the entire public sector has been on strike in South Africa for two weeks now. This includes but not limited to doctors, nurses, EMTs, police officers and teachers. All public clinics, hospitals and schools are closed, which means that the matric exam that is taken by all seniors has been pushed back and people on medication for HIV and TB are defaulting on their medication because there is no staff to administer it. Also of note, all departments which are responsible for funding grass roots NGOs like mine are on strike as well. Plenty of others have joined in ‘sympathy strikes,’ which is exactly what Tshengie wanted to do but for an allotted time of two months. When I told her that I imagine this will be resolved in less time (at least I hope so) she said she also wants to strike because the management committee doesn’t listen to her. Making her voice heard in both of these avenues, she explained to me, would take a full two months. I suggested that perhaps a more effective way of making her point is to voice her concerns at the next meeting in a few days time. That proposal was scratched immediately. One member of our organization has decided to go on strike himself. Clearly, this has completely crippled South Afric’s ability to function and can be, quite literally, directly correlated with thousands of deaths. In addition to all those suffering due to a 1.6% pay increase dispute, the real issue here is that I can no longer get my garden income generating activity off the ground because the Department of Agriculture is also on strike (of course they are). Why more attention hasn’t been focused on how the strike has affected American mainly white, affluent Peace Corps Volunteers, is beyond me. This blatant oversight is appalling. Moving on, because of this upsetting disruption in my plan to cure AIDS, I have changed course and have started to develop a curriculum to train the volunteers that do in-home hospice care at my organization. None of them have had any training at all and are so hungry to learn how to better help their community. Seeing as though the very high majority of people I work with are HIV-positive, this information can also directly affect how they live their lives. Tshengie thought the training would be most effective if it was set up as a series of one day workshops. The topics that will be discussed are: what it means to be in home based care, professionalism and effective reporting, HIV/AIDS and ARVs, TB and DOTS, STIs and condoms, psycho-social support and stress, gender-based violence, first aid and palliative care and lastly, forming and facilitating a support group. Because of each of our 14 Volunteers see three to five clients a day, this education has the potential to affect thousands of people.

8/27: I’ve been spending a lot of my free time with my go go lately. Today she tried to convince me that if I stay forever not only will she build me another house but that house will have tiles on the floor. If you never see me again it’s because the prospect of tiling became too tempting. I also finished Fast Food Nation today, which I began out of a need for some Americana and yes I’m aware of the irony. I’m just thankful that KFC, one of my few indulges here, only makes a couple appearances. I couldn’t have my addiction to their avalanche sundae be hampered by things like fair wages, price fixing, maltreatment of animals or the validity that anything they sell is legitimately food at all. Good thing all of that negatively is only associated with McDonalds, phew, my conscience is clear.

8/28: Today, in some sort of symbolic gesture to force me to conform to the ways of the developing world my watch decided to break. I should feel this renewed sense of freedom but really my left wrist feels naked and I’m a bit grouchy about my newfound loss of control. My frown soon turned upside down when I received word on a grant proposal I wrote a few days ago. I heard from a fellow PCV that the Mother Bear Project will send packs of hand-knitted teddy bears to your organization to give to the orphans and vulnerable children in the community. In sharing this great resource, Gail, my PCV friend, brought a few bears to our Peace Corps training a few weeks ago to show off. They even have little tags sewn on that say: made by Mother Bear: ______ and they sign their name. They are so wonderful and they have little outfits and hats and are made in bright cheery colors. I absolutely can’t wait to give them to the children; they’ve probably never seen a teddy bear before. Every child deserves something to snuggle up to; I know they’re going to love them.

8/29: Today my arms felt like jello washing my clothes after I finished scrubbing my impossibly thick, polyester blanket that soaks up water like it’s dying in the desert. At the end of this charade, I was drenched in water the color of mud, I had four buckets in some sort of attempt at a wash/rinse system, created a spectacle as I flung my entire body weight into throwing the blanket over the clothes line, which of course meant it was now covered in dirt and chicken poop and after all that I feel fairly certain that I didn’t even make a dent in its overall cleanliness and might have actually done more damage.

8/30: I’m sure I left work today with more than a few grey hairs. Tshengie wrote two grant proposals for new buildings, assuming she’d only get one. Well she got them both, and this good fortune has turned out to almost be more trouble than it’s worth. My org, Zamimpilo, is technically an umbrella organization for Isibindi, which works out of the same building. This partnership has caused much tension and strife as one of Zamimpilo’s founding members was promoted to Project Manager of Isibindi. Isibindi is funded by PEPFAR so it has a seemingly unlimited budget and is showered with thorough trainings at their hearts desire, proper follow ups by supervisors and an array of t-shirts in a variety of colors. But Zamimpilo has the building and the food and makes sure that no matter how effective the Isibindi machine may be, there are a few things Zamimpilo has that Isibindi doesn’t. The beautiful captains of the football team and cheerleader entourage that compose the unstoppable and enviable Isibindi might have their one last hold out to perfection fall in their favor. They’re vying for the second building that has yet to be built. (The first building is the second half of the church built by the Dutch youth group). Of course, this new building is bigger and better and on a large piece of land that is fit for expansion. The few rooms in the church building, though wonderful and complete with flush toilets, leave much to be desired when compared with Eden a few blocks away. Naturally, I have much loyalty to the rag-tag bunch of scrubby, semi-literate, quasi-productive bunch I work with. I was anticipating a David and Goliath epic sparring, complete with ‘Eye of the Tiger’ playing in the background. I was prepping Tshengie while I punched a pretend speed bag and she seemed a bit, dare I say apathetic, to the building war. I was unfazed. I already rationalized that after decades of internalized oppression, it was engrained in Tshengie to not stand up for herself. Well, lucky for her I’m here to save the day. I mean I was throwing practice punches; I had this one in the bag. So I made my impassioned speech with Tshengie by my side when I burst into English tangents. I was received by cold indifference. Tshengie changed her mind to match the latest person she talked to on the issue. This, of course, drove me crazy because really she should just be listening to me. Because I’m right. Zamimpilo deserved Eden. Final answer. The decision at the end of the day was that both Isibindi and Zamimpilo will move into the church building for three months while the new building is being built.

8/31: I’m not quite sure if the logic behind this temporary three month move involved the church building perhaps feeling lonely on days that weren’t Sunday or if there was a new found need for tangible effort to be made and this was the first thing that popped into their heads. Regardless of the rationale, we did in fact move today. I carried chairs, printers and pots on my head, luckily no longer treated like a fragile flower. You trip and fall; get up the fridge is waiting for you.

9/1: I can’t believe it’s really September. I’ve been here for over seven months and it feels like seven weeks. Today has been incredibly productive. I think the fact that our new building has six rooms as compared to our old one with one, has allowed me to escape into one of the empty rooms and get several uninterrupted hours of work completed before tea must be drunk again. Love it.